Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian formerly played bass with an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Week 30

deus ex machina

DEBUSSY Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 1
Valery Gergiev, conductor
Vadim Repin, violin

Fry - To Dream Again
Elgar - Feasting I watch
Brahms - Es tönt ein voller Harfenklang
Willan - An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts
Bach - Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden
Vaughan Williams - O Clap Your Hands
Handel - Zadok the Priest
Vaughan Williams - Serenade to Music
Verdi - Te Deum
Bruckner - Psalm 150
The [orchestra name redacted] Chorus
Duain Wolfe, conductor

7:30 Ars Viva concert (Sibelius, Hanson)

4:30-7 rehearsal

1:30-3:30 4:30-7 rehearsals

10-12:30 rehearsal
8 concert

1:30 concert

8 concert

6 CBE rehearsal

Week 30 was last week (April 7-13). I’m way behind again.

As it turned out, week 30 was a bad one for my low ‘C’ extension. For those non-bassists who might stumble upon this blog, I’ve included a picture below.

The extension, or ‘machine’ extends the range of a four stringed double bass down to the ‘C’ one octave below the lowest string on the cello. An entire book could probably be written about this device and its shortcomings; the Marquis de Sade comes to mind as a candidate for such a project.

It is probably prudent to omit the name of the model I play on, although many of its particular flaws are attributable more to age than poor design or construction. Extensions by this manufacturer have, or at least used to have a number stamped on them. For example, the extension I had put on an instrument twenty years ago was number six hundred and something. The dinosaur I was playing on last week (or trying to anyway) is number sixteen and probably belongs in a museum of torture, right beside the Rack and the Iron Maiden.

The contraption was brought low (so to speak) by the opening of the Firebird, which is very soft and very low, and for the first stand of basses, pizzicato. Suffice it to say, every note had a different sort noise associated with it. The ‘E’ naturals (‘F’ flats, really), a loud metallic rattle; the ‘E’ flats, a thunk! as the string slipped into its little rubber groove; the 'D' naturals, a bbbrrrrr! as the string vibrated against the E flat pad which was stuck halfway down; and so on and so forth. When I took the string off to make some adjustments to the little nut at the top, it crumbled into three or four pieces that rolled away and I didn’t have the heart to go crawling after.

Fortunately, I had a five string bass in my locker.

In spite of all that, the Firebird with Gergiev was quite enjoyable. He certainly knows how to whip things into a frenzy. Due to his busy schedule the program was only given three rehearsals and two performances. The Saturday evening 50th anniversary celebration concert for the chorus got one more rehearsal than it needed, including a much-despised Saturday morning.


Chantal said...

So, do you have to get a whole new extension? At least the mechanical part of it? or is it just a part to it?

And have you ever considered a fingered extension, or one with closers (like those KC Strings ones)? Why or why not?

OK, enough of the dorky C extension questions for now!

Adriel said...

I'm afraid I must join in the bass geekdom and get your thoughts on gated extensions vs. other kinds, as several in our section have the KC's and swear by them (as opposed to at them).

Michael Hovnanian said...

That machine is probably due for retirement. Some of the finest repair minds in the area have taken a look at it and drawn a blank on how to fix it.

I’ve never tried the ‘gated’ extension. A long time ago, I had a fingered extension but I never got good results. One day I had to play some passage involving low ‘C’s ‘D’ flats and ‘E’ flats. I got out a ruler and measured the distance from the ‘D’ flat to the ‘E’ flat and then the span of my hand and immediately ordered a machine. Admittedly, my bass had a longish (44 in.) string length…

The problem is each system is very good for certain things and lousy for others. I guess I’m used to what the machine is lousy at.